Other Biological Hazards and Infectious Agents

Contaminated drinking water is the top reason for illness after most disasters. If municipal water sources have been impacted, use one of the following for handwashing, drinking, teeth-brushing, and cleaning children’s toys:

  • bottled water

  • water that has been boiled for one minute then cooled

  • water that has been disinfected with 1/8 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water or 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of cloudy water (Allow it to stand for 30 minutes before use.)  

To avoid bacterial and viral exposures, hands should be cleaned regularly by either hand-washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing 60% to 95% alcohol). When hands are visibly soiled or dirty, it is best to wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds. 

The presence of wild or stray animals in populated areas increases the risk of diseases caused by animal bites (e.g., rabies) as well as diseases carried by fleas and ticks. To protect yourself and your family from animal- and insect-related hazards, avoid wild or stray animals; use insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin; and wear long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts. 

Livestock might no longer be confined after a disaster, and the pollution they generate may contaminate surface waters used for drinking. Loose dogs or other roaming animals may be lost, frightened, or hurt, and more likely to bite. The CDC recommends that you not feed, approach, or call a dog you do not know. 

Rats and mice can spread disease, contaminate food, and destroy property. Remove food sources and other items that can provide shelter for rodents. Keep food and water (including pet food) in containers made of thick plastic, glass, or metal that have a tight-fitting lid to keep rodents out. For more information, see the following:

In some areas, dust clouds generated by the earthquake may spread bacterial or fungal organisms. At least two reports of a coccidioidomycosis outbreak following an earthquake or dust storm have been documented. Thus, public, IH, and physician awareness, especially in endemic areas following similar dust cloud-generating events, may result in prevention and early recognition of disease.  

Technical resources for the IH include:

  • Benedict, K., and B.J. Park: "Invasive fungal infections after natural disasters." Emerging Infectious Diseases 20(3):349-355 (2014). 
  • McKenzie, L.B., N. Ahir, U. Stolz, and N.G. Nelson: “Household cleaning product-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments in 1990–2006.” Pediatrics 126:509‒16 (2010).